by Dilpreet BhullarAug 28, 2023
The terms textile and fibre are commonly associated with the utility products, which, for many, when juxtaposed with the word ‘art’ may seem unusual or even odd. It took a feminist movement of the 1970s to reckon the fibre art with high-art and let creative minds give wings to their ideas. The work of the Peru-based fibre artist Mariana Baertl is a fecund site to explore and experience the fibres in a new light, not in the shape of a high-end product, but as an art form. It exudes simplicity of the material, moulded in the creative hands, to lend an artistic expression. The fibres are turned in a ball, skein, hank, besides a plethora of natural motifs on the canvas, to replicate the presence of a series of swirling movements in nature, be it water or wind.
Talking about her inspiration in an interview with STIR, Baertl declares, “Nature is one of the most important sources of inspiration in my work, it holds an immense variety of textures and natural patterns that I find fascinating. Nature sometimes looks so effortless even though it holds such complex compositions. I always try to find movement in nature and that is what inspires me the most. I even find movement in rocks, the sinuous lines we see in something so rigid and structured as rocks and mountains give me a flowing and moving sensation. As if all the elements were moving and dancing together and froze and became rigid mid-dance”.
As someone who studied fashion from the perspectives of both design and management and stayed in Peru, Argentina and Spain, Baertl understands the intricacies of the textures and textiles. She cautiously terms her material - natural cotton fibre which she hand-dyes - as the “living fibre”. Baertl expounds on her choice of material, “I love creating with natural materials because they have such a variety of forms, textures, and even smells that inspire me to create and apply them in contrasting forms. I love the combination of different materials in a single piece because it gives the work personality. I always try to include something that gives the piece movement, a more subtle material that could work as a base, a fibre that has a special shine for little details and pops of light”. Like India, Peru has an uninterrupted history steeped in traditional textile works - rearing a farm to obtain the thread is of equal importance as the making of the fabric. Since Peru has a bountiful of natural fibres, Baertl does not have to look beyond the shores of familiarity to turn these fibres into hand embroidery.
The works to many may appear simple sans a complex network of process, however, it involves long hours of engagement to turn an idea into an art piece for the viewers. Baertl walks us through every step that she takes to give her conceptual thought a tangible reality, “I get inspired by textures in nature or by something I saw but usually store them in my mind for later use. That gives my creativity the possibility of mixing different sources of inspiration and imagining different textures in my mind before actually getting inspired to create a piece, like a slow brew or slow-cooked meal in my mind. After I have the inspiration and a general feel of the piece, I go to my fibres, which are my second source of inspiration. They communicate with their textures and colours, how they shine, and how they feel. I then create a very loose sketch just to get a feeling for proportions and movement. Almost all my work happens on the canvas, I create while experimenting with the fibre, I try different shapes and movements while I work, and my form of working is very organic and free. From time to time I will step away from the piece and do some trimming on the fibres and yarns, a little thread out of place could ruin all the balance of the piece”.
In the contemporary visual art practice, which has seen an unprecedented presence of technology, the fibre art of Baertl is a rare sight that, as the artist mentions, "doesn’t aim to overpower anything else in the room”.